Mountain bike racing is one of the most unique endurance sports there is. The fluctuations in power and effort while racing out on the trails are unlike any other form of racing.
On top of that, riders are expected to navigate through roots, rocks, sand, and an abundance of other obstacles all while bouncing in and out of their “red zone”.
Oh, and did I mention the start? As soon as the gun goes off, it’s an all-out sprint to get the best positioning before hitting the first single track.
While these are what make mountain bike racing such a thrill, they also make it very challenging to prepare for!
I’d like to share with you one of my favorite quotes about the start of a mountain bike race: “You start out as hard as you can go, then go harder.”
Surely, there is no faster way to bring your heart rate from resting to maxed than to line up at a cross country race. Similarly, enduros and downhill events will bring you over your limit just as quickly once the starter says “go”.
When you’re on the dirt, passing opportunities are usually limited and positions are often decided by small increments of time, meaning every second counts.
With this in mind, you’ll notice that starts are a major component of these new plans. This is to help you be able to go way over your limit with a huge surge of power and then actively recover while still maintaining a significant effort.
While getting a good start is important, getting a good start and holding it is paramount.
Big Power for Small Durations
When you’re on a mountain bike, there are often times when you are not pedaling simply because you cannot. This can be the result of steep descents, extremely slick corners, or really technical sections that you can only roll through.
Top mountain bikers often find their way to the podium not because they have the highest FTP, but because they are able to recover the best during these small periods of coasting.
By getting more lactic acid out of their legs than their competitors, they can power up the next climb or out of a corner harder than their competition.
These quick recoveries and the ability to put out high-intensity efforts over and over again throughout a ride are a very specific skill to mountain bike racing and one that can greatly improve when you exercise it.
As you can see with our new mountain bike plans, short duration efforts well over threshold are a common theme.
The intervals you’ll find in these plans are meant to raise your limit, speed your recovery, and allow you to do it over and over again.
Keeping Your Head While in the Red
As we’ve discussed a lot already, a prominent theme in off road racing is going over your limit.
While recovering and getting back within your steady state range is important, it is also very important to be able to ride safely and efficiently while you’re seeing stars.
I often tell the junior racers I coach that an extra MPH that you can carry through a corner typically translates into an extra 3 MPH in the next straight away. Every little bit of momentum you can carry through corners or technical sections of the course will greatly improve your efficiency and overall speed.
While bike handling skills are key here, being able to utilize your bike handling skills when your heart rate is maxed is often the real challenge.
Top mountain bike riders are able to handle and maneuver their bikes just as effectively when they’re at 150% of their FTP for the 40th time during a race as they can when they’re fresh.
This is a learned skill that is developed from spending a considerable amount of time in this “red zone” so that your body familiarizes itself with the sensation of being there.
While the high-intensity intervals you’ll find in these training plans are great for increasing your FTP and overall fitness, they also get you used to being “maxed” so that your body is not shocked when it occurs during a race and you can still handle your bike to the best of your ability.
-Written by Trevor DeRuisé